Iguaçu Falls

Waterfalls unite beauty with a wondrous spectacle of sound and sight. Leaning perilously over a bridge or crag, such as the spectacular Iguaçu waterfall between Argentina and Brazil, the thrill of beauty laced with fear shivers through one – unforgettably. Below is the maelstrom of magnetic fascination and bottomless horror. Apprehension, too, is part of that shiver. Virginia Woolf wrote about the uncanny sensation of walking across a London square in 1939 just before war was declared and feeling the tremor of impending doom. It was a day of Keats’s ‘season of mellow fruitfulness/Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun …’ All was warm and calm but not reassuring. It held an eerie stillness. She was moving through time that felt as if it was standing still, holding its breath, apprehensive of what the endless moving moments of the future might hold.

L.P. Hartley wrote at the start of ‘The Go-between’, ‘The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.’ It is more terrifyingly true of the future. We do not know what lies in store for us, though democratic systems tell us that we can influence it. But what if the voters are almost evenly split? The divide is deep and any talk of reconciliation between deeply opposed views is just unrealistic. The divide will remain and only the future will show who foresaw it correctly.

‘The people have spoken,’ is repeated like a mantra by the British prime minister. But two years have passed since the referendum gave a narrow victory to those who wanted to leave the European Union. More young people, who then voted overwhelmingly to stay in the EU, are now of voting age, and it is all about their future. The prospects now are clearer. Foreign investment in the British Isles is falling. It will no longer be the English-speaking world’s bridge of entry to the market on the continent of Europe. Is this the first historical case of a nation voting democratically to impoverish itself? The distant world beyond our neighbours on the continent may be willing eventually to sign trade agreements with a market of sixty-five million inhabitants, but first these deals will be done with one of four hundred and fifty million people. That makes obvious commercial sense.

I remember not long ago meeting historians who were discussing when our contemporary era ends and history begins. There was tentative agreement that all that happened before fifty years ago was ‘history’. So some living people were born in a historical era – an intriguing thought. Anyone over fifty started life in historic times! People well over seventy now were starting their own families in the historic times of the Beatles and Mary Quant’s mini-skirts. Freedom at last to shock the oldies, and most of them jumped willy-nilly into the eddies of time…

Which is now turning in on itself. On a bridge leaning over to where a strong, steady flow has turned into a maelstrom, I see whorls of thrashing grey and white waters with shadowy traces of blue, like the shell of a snail. Still silent calm is in there, somewhere. But below me the snarling waters hit rocks and swirl to roar round in a maelstrom of disturbing beauty to burst – where and how?- into a future of inevitable time …

… which now is turning in on itself. Watch it leaning over the rails on a bridge looking down where the strong, steady flow has turned into a maelstrom. Try to calm it. Imagine how whorls of thrashing grey and white water, with shadowy traces of blue like the shell of a snail, can become calm, measured, silent. But below the snarling waters still hit rocks to roar and swirl round in a maelstrom of disturbing but fascinating beauty to burst – where and how? – in a future of inevitable time.

Iguaçu Falls

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